Move over Kawin and Hassan, this England-based Filipino is Southeast Asia's number one No.1
Neil’s journey has been far from straightforward, but he is basking in the glory at the moment
The Philippines goalkeeper could be playing in the English Premier League next season and, if so, will have earned his place in the world’s most popular league the hard way – by helping his team get promoted.
Etheridge has slipped under the radar in Southeast Asia – unfairly so.
Perhaps it is because he was born in London and has never played club football outside Europe.
Perhaps it is because he has been knocking around the lower leagues of England for a number of years, meaning another move in May to Cardiff in the English Championship did not receive much attention.
The gloveman has been around for some time despite still being relatively young – for a goalkeeper at least – at 27.
The former Chelsea youth player made the short journey across West London to join Fulham in 2006.
There were then years of loan deals and short spells at Charlton Athletic, Bristol Rovers, Crewe and elsewhere before a 2015 move to Walsall. He did enough in the Midlands to then be signed by Cardiff.
Chris Greatwich is not only a former Philippines teammate of Etheridge, he is also a friend.
He has incredible self-belief and even when he didn’t have a club and was wondering what would happen, he was always really positive
“Neil’s journey has been far from straightforward, but he is basking in the glory at the moment,” Greatwich, now head coach of Kaya FC, told FourFourTwo.
“He has done the hard work, playing in the lower leagues with Oldham and Charlton.
“He has incredible self-belief and even when he didn’t have a club and was wondering what would happen, he was always really positive that his time would come.
“He showed great self-discipline to stay fit and sharp all the time. At one time, he had played more international games than club games.”
Not any more. Keeper Lee Camp, who is highly-rated by Cardiff boss Neil Warnock, was expected to be the No.1 at the club this season, but the former Northern Ireland star has been injured.
When he returns to fitness he may not get into the team because of Etheridge’s excellent form.
He has played every moment of the season so far and after 21 games, Cardiff are sitting in second place, just four points behind leaders Wolverhampton and four points clear of the playoff spots in the battle for a return to the top flight.
Cardiff's Filipino wall
As well as Cardiff sitting in the automatic promotional places, one other thing stands out when you look at the table.
The team has conceded the least number of goals in the entire league, or to put it another way, Etheridge has conceded fewer goals than any other goalkeeper in the Championship.
The clean sheets that he has kept in one of the most competitive leagues in Europe is testament to his ability
This is something that should be shouted from the bottom of the deepest Welsh valleys all the way to the top of the tallest skyscraper in the glitzy financial Manila district of Makati.
This Southeast Asian goalkeeper has picked the ball out of his net just 16 times so far this season. Such consistency is truly impressive.
Being a goalkeeper in the Championship is tough. The level is high and the crowds are as big as the rewards for success and the penalties for failure.
The pressure to achieve promotion is massive and no allowances are made to keepers for any mistakes.
“The Championship is an extremely difficult league,” said Greatwich. “The clean sheets that he has kept in one of the most competitive leagues in Europe is testament to his ability. Hopefully he will get to the highest level.
"To have a current national team player in the English Premier League would be gigantic.
He is playing a major part in Cardiff’s promotion challenge and the whole of the Philippines will be cheering the Bluebirds on
“He is an inspiration for Filipino players and we are right behind him. “
When the debate about the best goalkeeper in Southeast Asia focuses on Thailand’s Kawin Thamstachanan and Hassan Sunny of Singapore, they are forgetting one person.
The first two can lay strong claim to be the best No.1’s currently playing in Southeast Asia, but on current form Etheridge is outperforming both.
He is playing a major part in Cardiff’s promotion challenge and the whole of the Philippines football family will be cheering the Bluebirds on.
It is also time for media and fans in the ASEAN region to give Etheridge the recognition he deserves.
Photos: Cardiff City Football Club